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Maheshi Dassanayake

Maheshi Dassanayake

Principal Investigator

Associate Professor

Pramod Pantha

Pramod Pantha

Postdoctoral Research Scientist

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in 2015 fall as a Ph.D. graduate student. I am working in Arabidopsis and its related extremophile (Schrenkiella parvula) to study abiotic stress tolerance. I am using modern molecular biology and comparative genomics tool.  I completed my MS from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2015 May. I worked on down-regulation of lignin biosynthetic genes particularly Cinnamyl Alcohol Dehydrogenase (CAD) and Cinnamoyl-CoA Reductase (CCR) in big bluestem grass, a potential feedstock for biofuel.  I completed my undergraduate degree from Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science (IAAS), Nepal in 2012.

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Samadhi Wimalagunasekara

Samadhi Wimalagunasekara

Graduate Student

After completing my Bachelor's degree at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, I began my Ph.D. journey in fall 2021 under the guidance of Dr. Dassanayake. My research is dedicated to exploring the remarkable adaptability of halophytes to high salt. Despite the considerable phylogenetic diversity within the halophyte community, these plants share a common adaptive trait of salt tolerance. Therefore, my project aims to uncover genomic traits that have convergently evolved in >250 extremophytes adapted to high salinity using bioinformatics techniques. Additionally, I am investigating functional responses to high salinity in the model halophyte Schrenkiella parvula, focusing on photosynthesis and responses related to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species. This endeavor not only promises to deepen our understanding of halophyte adaptation but also sheds light on broader questions surrounding adaptive mechanisms in response to environmental stress.

Thu Nguyen

Thu Nguyen

Graduate Student

I joined Dassanayake’s lab in 2021 Fall for my Ph.D. program. I finished my undergraduate and my MS in Biotechnology at Nong Lam University (NLU), Vietnam. I am interested in creating abiotic stress-tolerant plants, so working in this lab gives me the chance to fulfill my dream. I am currently working on molecular biology techniques like CRISPR to make transgenic/gene-edited lines with salt tolerance traits in two research model plants:  Arabidopsis thaliana, and Schrenkiella parvula.

Sara Armstrong

Sara Armstrong

Graduate Student

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in 2022 Fall as a Ph.D. student. I graduated from LSU with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in geology in 2019. I am helping to pioneer a Planetary Geobiology Ph.D. program here at LSU, where I will be studying how plants grow and adapt to extreme environments with high levels of magnesium, like serpentine soils here on Earth and areas on Mars for future manned missions. I am also co-advised by Dr. Suniti Karunatillake of the Planetary Science Lab in the Geology and Geophysics Department here at LSU.

Richard S Garcia

Richard S Garcia

Graduate Student

Before I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in Fall 2022, I had previously worked on agricultural crops such as rice, sorghum, maize and foxtail millet at International Rice Research Institute and LSU-Agricultural Center. I finished my BS in Biology and MS in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines. Basically, I have been in plant science research for a while; also, I love plants. Right now, I want to realize my research ideas in understanding plant abiotic stresses for my PhD. Here at Dr. Dassanayake’s lab I will have that opportunity. I will be using brassica extremophyte species using transcriptomic, ionomic and metabolomic studies to understand the physiology, biochemistry and underlying mechanisms of plant abiotic stress tolerance.

Amaya Wanniarachchi

Amaya Wanniarachchi

Graduate Student

In fall 2022, I started my PhD program in planetary geobiology under the supervision of Dr. Suniti Karunathillake, majoring in geology and minoring in biology under Dr. Maheshi Dassanayake's guidance. At the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, I studied geology as my major for my undergraduates. Working in this facility allows me to pursue my passion of growing plants in extreme environments such as Mars. I am now researching the geological settings of two research model plants, Arabidopsis thaliana and Schrenkiella parvula, in their natural habitats.

Isabel  Johnson

Isabel Johnson

Graduate Student

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in the Fall of 2022 as a PhD student. I attained my undergraduate degree at Ohio Wesleyan University in May of 2022. There, I worked in the herbarium and became curious about how different plants adapt to their environment. In the Dassanayake lab, I am able to work with the halophytes Schrenkiella parvula and Eutrema salsaginium which are considered the experts at adapting to extreme environments such as soil with high salt and low essential nutrients like phosphorus. These stresses have been studied respectively, but often in nature these types of abiotic stresses occur at the same time. Therefore, my research will focus on understanding the underlying mechanisms of plants growing in more than one stress condition. I will achieve this research aim by comparing the halophytes Schrenkiella parvula and Eutrema salsaginium in singular and combined stresses using a plethora of transcriptomic and genetic tool

Jason Garcia

Jason Garcia

Undergraduate Student

I am a Biochemistry major minoring in Physics who joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in early 2021 as I found the transformation research they were doing really interesting. Since then I’ve been phenotyping the species Schrenkiella parvula, Eutrema salsugineum, and Arabidopsis thaliana when exposed to different concentrations of Na+.

Jorge A Parada

Jorge A Parada

Post-baccalaureate student

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in the Fall of 2023 as a post baccalaureate student through the LAGNIAPPE bridge program. I originally graduated from California State University San Bernardino with a major in Biology and minor in Chemistry. During my undergraduate I became fascinated by the field of ecology through field biology opportunities in the BREE lab. Through my experiences I have found a love for evolutionary genetics & genomics and have since transitioned my goals towards a Phd in genetics. In the Dassanayake Lab I am comparing RNA Sequencing data of Schrenkiella Parvula under Multi-salt stress vs. single salt stress conditions to identify differences in the transcriptome. Our goal is to gain further insight into Schrenkiella Parvulas unique resilience in salt rich environments.

Hannah Holliday

Hannah Holliday

Undergraduate Student

My name is Hannah Holliday and I am a junior majoring in biological sciences with a minor in psychology. I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in January of 2023 to expand on my interest in genomics and knowledge of post-graduation opportunities. I am very interested in how genes and the environment influence neural mechanisms of the brain. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends, watching movies/shows, and crocheting.

Sylvie Bonner

Sylvie Bonner

Undergraduate Student

Hi! My name is Sylvie and I'm a Biology major in the LSU Ogden Honors College with a double minor in Philosophy and Sociology. My biggest reason for joining Dr. Dassanayake's lab is my interest in genetics, as well as having the opportunity to gain neat experience in research. After completing my undergraduate studies, my goal is to get into graduate school so I can continue to study subjects in the field of genetics. In my free time, I really enjoy spending time with my friends, binge watching shows or movies, and occasionally trying to teach myself how to cook.

Luke Guidry

Luke Guidry

Undergraduate Student

My name is Luke Guidry, and I am a biochemistry major who joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in Spring 2023. My main reason for becoming a part of Dassanayake’s lab was my interest in the mechanisms of gene expression, and how environmental factors can affect this expression. After I graduate, I hope to go onto medical school and become a physician.

Anamaria Bao-Loc-Trung

Anamaria Bao-Loc-Trung

Undergraduate Student

Through the LSU Explorers’ Program, I joined Dassanayake’s lab in 2023 Fall. I joined research because I wanted to gain experience working in a lab, expand upon my skills, and gather new opportunities at LSU. As a biology major in Pre-Health, I am always interested in science, hoping to foster more interest in various topics. Through Dassanayake’s lab, I am especially excited to collaborate with a team on research that is finding ways to protect food from the rising dangers of climate change. Outside of school, I really love reading, watching movies, and crocheting.

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